Pope Francis meets with civil authorities in Antananarivo, Madagascar Sept. 7. (Vatican Media.)
Pope Encourages Madagascar’s Civic Leaders to Work for ‘Integral Development’
Pope Francis praised the country’s aspiration to “stability and peace, through a fruitful democratic alternation that shows respect for the complementarity of styles and visions.”
ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar — In an address to the civil authorities of Madagascar Sept. 7, Pope Francis urged the leaders to embrace the “soul” of their country and to work toward an “integral development” that will not forget the poor and those most in need.
“In the Preamble of the Constitution of your Republic, you wished to enshrine one of the fundamental values of Madagascan culture: ‘fihavanana,’ a word that evokes the spirit of sharing, mutual help and solidarity. It also evokes the importance of family, friendship and goodwill between people and with nature,” the Holy Father said.
“It reveals the ‘soul’ of your people, its distinctive identity that has enabled it to face with courage and self-sacrifice the various problems and hardships it faces daily,” he said.
“If we must recognize, esteem and appreciate this blessed land for its beauty and its priceless natural resources, we must do the same for this “soul”, which…has given you the strength to keep embracing ‘aina’, life,” he added.
Pope Francis addressed the civil authorities during a six-day trip to three sub-Saharan African countries. He first visited Mozambique, and he will be in Madagascar Sept. 7-8. On Sept. 9, he will visit Mauritius.
After nearly 80 years of French colonization, Madagascar gained its independence in 1960. Pope Francis praised the country’s aspiration to “stability and peace, through a fruitful democratic alternation that shows respect for the complementarity of styles and visions.”
He urged political leaders in the country to continue fighting corruption, instability and exclusion, which foster “conditions of inhumane poverty,” and encouraged them to work toward a society with a “better division of income and an integral development of all, particularly those most poor.”
The Pope added that this development does not only mean social aid, but also giving the poor and excluded a voice in their own development.
Furthermore, he added, the rich natural resources and environment of Madagascar must be protected as part of the country’s “integral development.”
“This calls not only for finding ways to preserve natural resources, but also for seeking ‘comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental,’” he said, quoting his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home).
“In a word, there can be no true ecological approach or effective efforts to safeguard the environment without the attainment of a social justice capable of respecting the right to the common destination of earth’s goods, not only of present generations, but also of those yet to come,” he said.
The Holy Father also praised the aid and support to Madagascar provided by many international countries, but he cautioned against a global economy that ignores or seeks to eliminate cultural diversity and local interests or traditions.
“That openness can risk turning into a presumptive ‘universal culture’ that scorns, submerges and suppresses the cultural patrimony of individual peoples,” Francis said.
“An economic globalization, whose limitations are increasingly evident, should not lead to cultural uniformity. If we participate in a process respectful of local values and ways of life and of the expectations of citizens, we will ensure that the aid furnished by the international community will not be the sole guarantee of a country’s development.”
“The people themselves will progressively take charge and become the artisan of their own future. That is why we should show particular attention and respect for local civil society,” he added.
Pope Francis told the leaders that the Church will work with authorities in building a more just and civil society, following the example of Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo, a Madagascar woman who was beatified by St. John Paul II during his visit to the country in 1989.
Rasoamanarivo converted to Catholicism as a teenager, despite her parents’ opposition. While she desired religious life, her parents arranged for her to marry one of her cousins, who was allegedly a drunk and a womanizer.
Though some of her friends encouraged her to divorce him, Rasoamanarivo refused because of her belief in the unbreakable vow of the sacrament of marriage, and instead prayed fervently for her husband’s conversion. Her husband reportedly repented and received baptism upon his death, after which Rasoamanarivo devoted her time to prayer and care for the sick and the poor.
“Her witness of love for this land and its traditions, her service to the poor as a sign of her faith in Jesus Christ, show us the path that we too are called to pursue,” Francis said of Rasoamanarivo.
“I wish to reaffirm the desire and the readiness of the Catholic Church in Madagascar … to contribute to the dawn of a true fraternity that will always value fihavanana. In this way an integral human development can be fostered, so that no one will be excluded,” the Pope added.
“With this hope, I ask God to bless Madagascar and those who live here, to keep your lovely island peaceful and welcoming, and to make it prosperous and happy!”